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Uniform pricing must for vaccines procured by Govt: Chhattisgarh Health Minister

Poornima Joshi New Delhi | Updated on April 27, 2021

TS Singh Deo, Health Minister Chhattisgarh

'Now, States have to negotiate on vaccine price on their own with the manufacturers'

The Health Minister of Chhattisgarh TS Singh Deo argues for a uniform price for the vaccine and points out that when Union Budget has made an allocation of ₹35,000 crore for Covid-19 vaccination and paid ₹4,411 crore to the vaccine manufacturers for ramping up production, asking the States to buy the vaccine for a higher price is unjustified. In an interview to BusinessLine, Singh Deo also underlined the gaps in vaccine availability after it opened up for the 18-45 age group from May 1. Excerpts:

How do you respond to the dual-pricing issue?

The Centre’s decision should be reversed with immediate effect. The price of the vaccine needs to be rationalised and the purchasing should be done by one agency which is, as it has always been, the Government of India, and supplied to the States. I have supported the policy that the Centre devised at the beginning because it was based on logic and scientific thinking – the priority should be healthcare and frontline workers, people above a certain age and with co-morbidities. The trouble that has been there from the beginning is that the Centre has not planned for it and the volume and supply of vaccine that should be available is simply not enough. The current production is 7 crore per month, six crore by SII and one crore by Bharat Biotech. We have to vaccinate 80 crore people which is 60 per cent of a population of 135 crore, 40 per cent being below 18. To vaccinate 80 crore people with 7 crore vaccines every month, it would take us 11 months. Then it will be another 11 months to give them the second dose. You need 160 crore doses for 80 crore people when the production of 7 crore vaccines per month. It is quite clear that a very big mistake was made right at the beginning by not estimating demand and the volumes that would be required. Efforts should have been made to ramp up production because we have a clear understanding, after our experience in the Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP), of the volumes that are needed in India to give essential vaccines. There was an understanding right from the beginning that we had to vaccinate everyone above 18, it was only a question who to prioritise.

But after some states started raised the question of inequitable distribution, the daily production being only 24 lakh doses per day. I don’t see this as a blame-game. When a situation is evolving, feedback and criticism is healthy for the development of an adequate response. We are dealing with an unprecedented pandemic and if States articulate their view, it should be perceived in the right spirit. After all, we all have the people’s interest at heart.

The question is that the States, which were not even using the share that was allotted to them and vaccination was way below the national average, even they were complaining of not getting enough vaccines... That is unfair and reflects partisanship even on the part of the States.

Well, I can’t speak for others but in Chhattisgarh, we have done 16.4 per cent of the population. The presumption is that 45+ age group would be around 18-20 per cent. I’m just taking whole numbers for easy calculation. Of the total population of 2.93 crore in Chhattisgarh, 20 per cent 58 lakhs or let us call it 60 lakhs for easy calculation. The national number today (Monday) is 11.76 crore, which is just above 8.6 per cent of the population. You still need to vaccinate a whole lot of people. What is the availability of the vaccine — 7 crore per month. India did not have the vaccine and Delhi (the Centre) kept saying there is no dearth of the vaccine. When they said there is no shortage of vaccines, the States then logically said that you open it up for a larger section of the population. We have not vaccinated the 45+ age group fully and we have opened it up for a larger section of the population. Now, when the vaccine is not available and a larger section needs to be vaccinated, the Centre has now put it on the heads of the States.

So, look at the absurdity of it – that there are only 7 crore vaccines per month. Of this 50 per cent would be bought by the Centre. The rest, 3.5 crore would be bought by the States to vaccinate a larger number of people. And they have been left to negotiate on their own with the manufacturers. From this 3.5 crore, the business houses will also buy and there is utter confusion about whether there is a quota fixed for the States and the rest. I should presume that for the manufacturers, the better option would be to veer towards where their realisations are better. Since they can sell at a price higher than they have fixed for the States, they would like to sell more to the private sector.

Surely, the States also have an obligation; why should you not pay for the vaccine as well?

Not only is there a vaccine shortage and more people need it, the States have been left to fend for themselves. And the manufacturers on their own fixed the price of the vaccine without any consultation with the States. The Government provided ₹4,411 crore to these companies to ramp up their production and then their separate allocation for vaccination in the Union Budget of 35,000 crore. That is all people’s money and you are asking the States to cough up the money and negotiate on their own with the manufacturers. This is very unfair and not in public interest. India has to have a uniform price for the vaccines procured by the Government, whether it is the Centre or the States. Any deviation from this policy is anti-people and against all good practices followed so far. It is not as if the States are shying away from their obligation and we do not mind paying either. But there should be a uniform process of procurement.

Published on April 27, 2021

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